Nobody could have predicted the response from Fox News Network over a claim that its Fox Business channel walked away from an agreement for a new reality series.
Leftfield Pictures, the producer of History Channel’s Pawn Stars as well as a just announced series titled Northern Lights for the NFL Network, filed the $4.5 million lawsuit in July. Now, Fox is hitting back with a counterclaim charging Leftfield with fraud. In court papers describing why it dropped the series, Fox says it learned that one of its main gay castmembers didn’t have a legal relationship with supposedly adopted children, that another character was caught up with molestation accusations and that Leftfield was faking a show about a family-owned business conducting lucrative estate sales in Florida.
The show was the result of a March 2014 meeting between Brian Gaffney, director of special programming at Fox Business, and two of Leftfield’s top executives — company owner Brent Montgomery and general counsel Chris Silvestri. The latter is notable and significant to the lawsuit because he had worked for 17 years at Fox in the legal and business affairs department. In other words, Fox felt it could trust him.
Leftfield pitched a number of ideas, according to Fox’s legal papers, while Gaffney stressed at the meeting “he was familiar with most reality show production techniques and that any series FNN would obtain for FBN had to meet higher editorial standards.”
What did this mean? “Gaffney informed them that FNN is subject to more scrutiny than other media organizations and any faking, fudging or scripting could become a scandal tainting the FNN brand,” continues Fox’s court papers.
Based on a “sizzle reel,” Fox says it signed up for a reality series about Silas Pierce’s family business. Apparently, Fox liked the idea of “two fathers working together with their sons” in the wake of a recession that had hit Florida’s economy.
But by the end of the year, Fox had concerns.
Leftfield allegedly came forward with the need to cast a second company for the show, Dan & Suki, a husband-and-wife team in Los Angeles.
“Among those concerns were that Dan & Suki sold a piano to a Hispanic woman for $900 then, after she put down a deposit, sold it again to a white couple for $3,000,” states the counterclaim. “When the Hispanic woman returned, Dan & Suki lied to her saying she didn’t put down a big enough deposit. FNN complained to Leftfield that the main characters came across as dishonest and incompetent.”
Fox identified an even greater casting problem upon the appearance of someone in the show identified as Barbara. According to the legal papers, “Questions arose at FNN regarding the family portrayal and whether or not ‘Barbara’ was Silas’ wife and his sons’ mother when she says ‘I’m your Momma!’ ”
Last September, in response to a rough cut, some odd discussions ensued. Leftfield was allegedly evasive when Fox wondered why Silas’ son always called him by his first name instead of “Dad.” The network says it was told that this was because of business reasons.
But then, “FNN was told by Silvestri that Silas was gay and had nine adopted children,” states the court papers. “FNN asked Leftfield for paperwork to show that the young men, Matt and AJ, were indeed Silas’ adopted sons because gays could not adopt in Florida in 2010. Leftfield then claimed Silas had legal guardianship over the boys who had been adopted by his deceased parents. FNN eventually learned the truth: Silas had no legal relationship with Matt and AJ whom he falsely claimed to have adopted and that Silas’ parents were not dead but instead very much alive and living in Florida.”
If that’s not bizarre enough, Fox says it then learned from Silvestri that “the other purported father and son characters on the Sizzle Reel were no longer part of Silas’ team because of an allegation that the purported father had molested his purported son.”
And Fox adds that “Leftfield was arranging Silas’ estate sales” as the family had allegedly gotten out of the business.
So now, the cable news network is asserting that the Sizzle Reel amounted to false representations and that Leftfield didn’t meet an “elevated standard” by failing to cast a real business enterprise with people who were who they purported to be. The “misrepresentations and omissions were knowing, deliberate, intentional,” states the counterclaim, adding that Leftfield failed to timely deliver airable episodes.
Fox says it has demanded return of a production advance from Leftfield.
In response, Leftfield is said to have responded, “Maybe FNN is not yet ready to enter the reality television genre.”
Leftfield was acquired last year by ITV studios for $360 million.
“Fox News is distorting and omitting key facts that Leftfield Pictures firmly believes support its original claim that Fox News is in breach of our original agreement,” says Leftfield in a statement. “Throughout the process during which Leftfield worked with Fox News on this green-lit series, Leftfield met each and every obligation of our agreement. Fox News’ counterclaim is a desperate attempt to distort and misrepresent the facts, and to attempt to damage and bully Leftfield through derogatory representations.”
Leftfield isn’t done.
The statement continues: “Further, Fox News’ strategy to attack Leftfield executives personally, specifically disparaging Leftfield CEO Brent Montgomery and General Counsel Chris Silvestri, is bereft of any attempt to be ‘fair and balanced,’ as Fox News undertakes to distract from the facts. Leftfield has no intention of backing down and intends to file a response to Fox News’ counterclaim next week. Leftfield remains confident that as this case plays out in the appropriate legal channels, Leftfield’s position will be vindicated. Simply put, Fox News doesn’t want to pay the bill.”